Monday, 10 May 2010

An absence, or a vacuum, or perhaps just nothing to say.

Hello, I’m back.

This blog has been frozen in time while I went away and started work at the Government. This occupied my mind to the extent that I found I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about. I could have written some nice blogs about offshore renewable energy (the subject of my Government job) but other people write about that subject better than me.

I have now created some spare time for writing, a void or a vacuum, for two days a week.
‘A Void’ is a translation of a French book by Georges Perec (‘La disparation’ in the original) which he wrote, and which was translated, without the use of the letter e.
Is there a point to game-playing like this in literature? What’s the point to restricting your palette like this? Writing’s difficult enough, surely…
Perhaps it makes us more aware of what we’re actually working with when we write. We use words to create an image in the reader’s mind, but words exist in their own right, they are not just symbols of a reality, and they are not perfect symbols either. We endlessly make choices about the right words when we write. So when we signal these choices to the reader, it creates a sort of stereoscopic effect in which the reader is both aware of the artificial reality we’re trying to create, as well as the tools we’re using to do it.

And nature abhors vacuums, so when I sit there perfectly still and silent, fingers poised over the keyboard, random words come out of nowhere.
Physicists don’t like vacuums either; what used to be a perfectly empty space between galaxies now seems to be full of dark energy actively expanding the universe. Some types of dark energy are called quintessence, a beautifully pre-scientific term from the ancient Greek for ‘fifth essence’ – after the four classical elements of earth, air, fire and water. Another word for quintessence is ‘aether’. Physicists have tried to find the aether before and failed; that failure led to special relativity. So vacuums can be fruitful.


  1. Yes, vacuums can be fruitful. I like that! Glad to see you back here.

  2. I have heard it said you can build your own vacuum...

  3. there's a pretty good vacuum in the LHC

  4. Hi Pippa

    I'm here through Tania's blog.

    I'm not sure about Perec's work leaving out the 'e' and the business of vacuums. Perhaps it worked for him but do we all need to be so clever. There are many different approaches to the use of language. Different ways to play with it. I prefer a little less structure myself.

    Anyhow it's good to meet you here. I'm always on the lookout for good writing.

  5. I'm also not totally sold on GP's omission of that particular symbol throughout his writing as anything but a gimmick but I admit I do think it's a good gimmick. Wordplay is a joy all of its own and I concur it can prompt thought too.

    ...did it :)

  6. I think it seems gimmicky to prose writers, but poetry routinely works through the application of limitations and/or rules... perhaps that's what influenced Perec and the other Oulipo-ers.

    anyway, welcome!